The term blasphemy law is an immediate turn-off for most people, implying intolerance for freedom of speech and religion, mostly in an Islamic context. Not surprisingly, in recent times, Muslim countries have become notorious for their blasphemy laws, punishing everyone who has a different view of religion than their own. We hear almost on a daily basis of Christians and other minority groups within Muslims being punished under blasphemy laws in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt and even moderate Indonesia for the slightest of assumed offences.
In continuation of my series on First Amendment rights as they impact religious minority groups, I address current controversy over social media posts maligning religious groups. My previous post in this series entitled Does Freedom of Speech Allow Stereotyping discussed a greeting card that stereotyped Muslims as terrorists in an unusually offensive and glaringly inaccurate way. This week I have chosen another unfortunate event, a Facebook post that ignited debate over the possible classification of certain types of content as threats instead of free speech. Tennessee County Commissioner Barry West posted a picture on his Facebook page showing a cowboy aiming a shotgun at the camera with the caption “How to Wink at a Muslim”.
Courtesy Telegraph UK
This week’s savage attack of a British soldier by a maniac identifying himself as a Muslim rocked the western world for a number of reasons. With the Boston bombing still somewhat fresh in the minds of the media, yesterday’s attack in Woolwich, SE London has left people wondering what is going on in the world these days. There seems to be no dearth of angry people with home-made weapons from pressure cookers to meat cleavers, and law enforcement is understandably having a hard time guessing who will strike next, where and how. As I read the news reports coming out from the UK the day of the attack, both on social media and news channels, the usual song and dance of Islamophobic blame followed by the Muslim apologies and condemnations made me weary. Here we go again.
courtesy The Examiner
On May 11 at the Montage in Beverly Hills, approximately 300 people gathered to listen to a speech about standing up to extremism and intolerance in Islam. The topic was certainly not new, just another clarification of the old story: Islam doesn’t condone terrorism. The real reason why an array of California political and civic heavyweights – politicians, academics and community leaders including the California Lieutenant Governor, Los Angeles City Councilman and mayoral candidate Eric Garcetti, and several members of U.S. Congress – attended the event was to listen to the keynote speaker, Mirza Masroor Ahmad, spiritual and administrative head of the worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.
Courtesy Chicago CBS Local
These days, anything and everything can be uttered under the guise of free speech. We can hurt the religious sensitivities of others, call people names, stomp our foot on someone considered the son of God by billions. It’s all protected in the name of free speech. Don’t get me wrong, as an American Muslim I am indescribably thankful for the freedoms I receive in this great nation of ours. Without the First Amendment, I’d be unable to practice my religion freely, take time off for Friday prayers, invite friends over to my local mosque or even write posts such as this one in a Jewish publication. No doubt about it, freedom of speech is probably the greatest liberty and blessing we all enjoy here in the United States. But sometimes I think we misunderstand this freedom altogether.
Courtesy: Pew Forum
The Pew Research Center this week revealed another extensive and newsworthy piece of research: The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society. The results of the survey, which consisted of more than 38,000 interviews of Muslims in Africa, the Middle East, Europe and Asia in approximately 80 languages, reveals many things on many topics. Some revelations are interesting, others curious, and a few even downright alarming. As an American Muslim, though, I was mostly interested in the appendices, which discuss the attitudes of U.S. Muslims and compared them to similar themes among Muslims of other countries. Here’s my take:
The gloves are finally off: according to a poll, one third of Americans want a state religion. Two hundred years after the United States was created by men and women fleeing the stifling rule and religious persecution of their homes, we have come full circle by expressing a desire by some to return to a state sanctioned religion. No surprise that the preferred state religion is Christianity. Reflecting on the reasons for such a supposedly non-American public opinion, the pollsters wonder if it could be “reflective of dissatisfaction with the current balance of religion and politics”. In my mind, however, the results of the poll point to some deep-rooted issues, which instead of being dismissed as inconsequential because it could never actually happen, should be analyzed to understand the thought process of millions of the population.
The nation is still reeling from shock after Monday’s attack on the Boston Marathon. Gun violence notwithstanding, this is perhaps the first real terrorist attack on US soil after 9/11. Understandably emotions have been running high; no surprise then, that as the events unfolded many people, including the media, jumped on the “Blame the Muslims” bandwagon. The New York Post famously inflated casualty numbers and reported that a Saudi man was apprehended as a suspect by the police. Social media was inundated by predictions of guilt and accusations of violent jihad, at the same time as the Muslim community mobilized to condemn the attacks.
Courtesy: Huffington Post UK
It seems that controversy over the hijab – the Islamic tradition of covering a woman’s hair and body – will not die down anytime soon. Governments such as France and Germany seem to be dead set against it, while theocracies such as Saudi Arabia go the other extreme by forcing women to cover. But ask the average Muslim woman, and she will probably wonder what the fuss is all about. Since when is dress a political statement, even a weapon? FEMEN – a feminist Ukrainian protest group – seems to think it is, and is up in arms over the hijab, declaring April 4 as International Topless Jihad Day. What FEMEN activists perhaps did not expect was that Muslim women who wear the hijab are a tad possessive about their right to wear it, and don’t take lightly to a declaration of jihad (Arabic for struggle) against it.
Pope Francis with Foreign Diplomats, Credit REUTERS/Tony Gentile
The news out of the Vatican seems to be getting more and more fascinating every day. An avid researcher of all religions – and especially interested in all things Catholic because of my educational ties with convents – I have been following the abdication of Pope Benedict and the election of Pope Francis, and all that’s happened in between these two major events, with great interest. When Benedict resigned, I felt a moment or two of incredulity, because it’s practically unheard of. Then I followed the whole voting process, including the betting, with bated breath. And I haven’t been disappointed, for Pope Francis is proving to be an absolute gem in so many ways. As I said, fascinating news… even though I’m a Muslim.